Cultivating Strengths (Hartford Hospital 2008 and 2009 Community Benefits Report)

Celia Alamo, MSW ’07, was recognized by her employer, Hartford Hospital, in their 2008-09 Community Benefit Report. The publication highlighted the many people and programs that are committed to the health and well being of the community. Among the many things that Celia does, she runs a support group for Latina women living with HIV. Alamo says, “They are just human beings with a disease like any other, and they need to be hugged, loved, and supported.”

“It's not enough to be bilingual. You need to understand their culture and why they do what they do.” Celia Alamo, MSW

Cultural, socioeconomic, and health-related factors have contributed to a high incidence of HIV in the country’s Hispanic/Latino community, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hartford’s large Latino community is no exception, and many of those living with HIV are women.

“Many women with HIV were infected through heterosexual relations with husbands or people they’re in committed, long-term relationships with,” says social worker Celia Alamo, MSW, who runs Hartford Hospital’s support group for Latina women living with HIV. “They are just human beings with a disease like any other, and they need to be hugged, loved and supported.”

The support group meets twice a month for about two hours. Some activities focus on improving participants’ physical health—adhering to medication regimens, keeping medical appointments, learning about good nutrition and healthy lifestyle choices, for example. But it’s also designed to enhance the women’s mental and emotional health. The women are encouraged to identify their personal barriers to optimal functioning, take care of themselves, support each other and discuss the challenges they
face as Latina women with HIV.

Ms. Alamo helps participants build the coping skills necessary to meet the hard challenges of their illness, learn to spot and manage the warning signs of depression and anxiety, and improve their self-esteem. Arts projects give participants a chance to express themselves creatively and take pride in new
accomplishments. She helps them identify and access community resources and encourages them to strengthen their connections with family members and friends.

Having a support group especially for Latina women is important, Ms. Alamo says.

“It’s not enough to be bilingual. You need to understand their culture and why they do what they do,” she says, in order to help them become healthier and stronger.

Latina women tend to put everyone else’s needs ahead of their own and not take as good care of themselves as they should. Ms. Alamo encourages participants to do little things to “spoil themselves” and share them with the group. Latino culture is also very physically expressive, with hugging and kissing the norm. Unfortunately, myths about how HIV is spread are common, and Latina women often hide their disease, fearing that they’ll be isolated. This makes it hard to develop a support system or ask for help.

While providing support is the focus of the group, it’s not its only goal. As Ms. Alamo says, “I want to see these women become strong and independent and go on to lead groups and share with others all that they have learned.”

Article Courtesy of Hartford Hospital